College majors’ value not measured in cash

Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University

The magazine industry is interesting to me, especially with regard to rankings. It seems these days magazines attempt to capitalize on rankings that purport to provide factual data the consumer desires.

The strategy is smart to a degree, as the United States has a love affair with rankings - but only certain ones. We highly debate the BCS football rankings every year while never mentioning how our nation continues its slide in the world in terms of educating our children. Our priorities are in the wrong place.

Our misplaced priorities revealed themselves in a recent ranking by Kiplinger's of the "worst majors for your career." Using a set of metrics they determined, 10 majors were identified that would damage students' careers, generate low pay and could have higher levels of unemployment. I have no qualms with this methodology because this is a magazine that focuses on personal finance and business forecasting.

Little surprise in metrics

There was little surprise using these metrics that majors such as philosophy and religion, English, film and fine arts made the list. The humanities fields, which speak to the human condition, are viewed as less valuable because they don't generate enough money. But I ask, "Enough money for what?"

For the past few years, political leaders have debated a deficit that has grown under both parties. This is because we have a consume-at-all-costs culture that causes us to spend recklessly, using our resources in an attempt to buy happiness. And, the sad fact is that people aren't any happier, even with all of the material goods they possess.

How philosophical studies contribute

"Retroactive data about employment prospects fails to capture our specific predicament within The United Methodist Church. The church faces a huge wave of upcoming retirements that will require a new generation of clergy who are well served by a philosophy and religious studies undergraduate major. In addition to serving The United Methodist Church or other faith-based or social service agencies, Southwestern College's philosophy and religious studies graduates pursue advanced degrees, including MBAs, and these endeavors are greatly enriched by the expanded understanding of self and world that this type of study provides."

-Steve Wilke, vice president,
Southwestern College, Winfield, Kan.

"Seminaries look at all degree backgrounds. A religious or philosophical studies background can be a particularly useful foundation for theological education, but any strong undergraduate degree helps to develop the critical thinking skills that are equally important."

-The Rev. April Casperson, director of admissions, Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Back in March 2003, the editors of Fast Company Magazine had it right when they wrote, "We are better paid, better fed, and better educated than ever. Yet the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has tripled, and depression has soared in the past 30 years. The conclusion is inescapable: Our lifestyles are packed with more stuff, but we lead emptier lives. We're consuming more but enjoying it less."

As president of a United Methodist university, I value all fields of study that students select. My overall goal is for them to find something they love doing, that they would do for no compensation, and then find a way to be paid for that work.

Leading fulfilling lives

If they love their work, they will lead fulfilling lives. Yes, in this hyper-consumer culture, some will have to live a lifestyle different from the one the advertisers in Kiplinger's want them to purchase.

If they fulfill their purpose, their calling, maybe we can build communities where these domestic terroristic acts that we've seen recently will not occur. James Holmes was in a neuroscience program, definitely a lucrative field. But he had no peace, no connection to humanity, and we witnessed the carnage that he created.

We have all heard the Scripture from Mark 8:36 - "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" A more modern translation simply reads, "What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?" What good is it for young women and men simply to pursue careers to make the most money possible, only to find themselves alone, afraid and angry? That's what we are seeing today, over and over again.

I can appreciate what Kiplinger's does as it meets the wants of its audience. But this nation at this moment needs something different. We need people who are fulfilled in their careers so they can live fulfilled and meaningful lives. Humanities are valuable to that end.

Plan the next steps

Imagine What's NEXT is a new United Methodist event that will challenge and inspire college students to consider and plan the next faithful steps for their vocations, their communities, the church and the world. Join us Nov. 9-11, 2012, in St. Louis, Mo.

This recent string of tragedies continues to serve as a lesson that we attempt to ignore. I pray that my students find their purpose and live it to the fullest.

I am sure Kiplinger's would agree. For all of our sakes.

*Walter M. Kimbrough is the seventh president of United Methodist-related Dillard University in New Orleans. Known as the "Hip Hop President," he is one of the youngest college presidents in the nation. Before Dillard, he served as the 12th president of United Methodist-related Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. He has also served in administrative capacities at Albany State University, Old Dominion University, Georgia State University and Emory University.

News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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